Wrexham’s new super-prison, HMP Berwyn, has had its fair share of negative press. But the new institution, set to be one of Europe’s largest jails, is to host a scheme aiming to reduce incidents of self harm and suicide among prisoners.

Rates of self inflicted harm by inmates are at a record high in the UK, but The Listener scheme, run by the Samaritans, has a unique way to help tackle the issue. This peer support service trains prisoners to provide confidential emotional support to their fellow inmates who may be struggling to cope. Emma Harris, Policy and Communications Officer at Samaritans Cymru, told Copyright Magazine that the charity had been involved in implementing its Listener scheme at HMP Berwyn from an early stage.

The first Listener scheme was first launched in HMP Swansea in 1991, prompted by the suicide of a 15-year-old boy, the youngest person to take their own life whilst in custody at a UK prison. There are now teams of Listeners present in almost every prison in the UK, with 89,752 face-to-face contacts made in 2015 alone. Those who volunteer to be part of the team undertake the same intensive training as a Samaritan’s employee, with prisons aiming to have enough Listeners available for support 24 hours a day.

Jacob Hill, a 24-year-old released from prison last year, was one of them. ‘I wanted to support others and you feel like you are making a difference and in that place it is hard, you don’t get to make a difference in prison, and volunteering with the Listeners gives you that chance,’ he said in an interview with the BBC. ‘They can come to us about anything, some might be missing their family, others regretted the actions that led to them spending time inside. It was the Listener scheme that gave me a real feeling of purpose, many would say the same.’

Words: Ellen White

Cover image: Samaritans


Do more

Do more: Learn more about the Samaratin’s Listener scheme here.

If you need confidential support call the Samaritans on 116 123.